What Do You Mean?
Pity poor Justin Bieber. Even after years in the spotlight netting him lots of attention from the ladies, he still can’t figure out the fairer sex. And this title track from his fourth studio album vents his frustration about that situation. The result is a catchy, mid-tempo R&B jam composed completely of contradictory couplet complaints.
Bieber wastes no time before cutting to the chase. “What do you mean?” he begins, sort of like a romantic prosecuting attorney, “When you nod your head yes/But you wanna say no?/When you don’t want me to move/But you tell me to go?/What do you mean?”
And that’s just the beginning of the 21-year-old Canadian heartthrob’s heartaches … and the problems presented by this song and its video.
Contradictory Couplet Complaints
“What do you mean?/ Said we’re running out of time/ … Better make up your mind.”
“You’re so indecisive of what I’m saying/ … Don’t know if you’re happy or complaining.”
“First you wanna go to the left, and you want to turn right.”
“First you up and you’re down and then between.”
“You’re overprotective when I’m leaving.”
“Trying to compromise but I can’t win.”
“You wanna make a point, but you keep preaching.”
“What do you mean?”
No Secret Decoder Ring
In a radio interview with Ryan Seacrest explaining the already pretty clear meaning of the song, Justin exclaimed, “Girls are often flip-floppy. They say something, and then they mean something else. ‘What do you mean?’ … I don’t really know, that’s why I’m asking.” Money can buy a lot. But not, it seems, an understanding of a woman's manically mysterious ways.
One of Bieber’s repeated grievances here, I should note, crosses into sexual territory with, “Wanna argue all day, make love all night.” While that reference is hardly laudable, it at least hints at the reality that his smoldering physical connection with someone isn’t enough to smooth over all the other frustrations he feels.
But speaking of hints, is it really such a great thing for Justin to be furthering the idea that women routinely say yes when they actually mean no? Shortly after the song's release, actress Lena Dunham tweeted this protest of anything that might make some fans think less than twice about date rape: "Let's do away with pop songs where a girl nods yes when she means no and vice versa, k?"
One Seriously Scary Video
If Justin wanted to defend himself against that kind of lyrical interpretation, his video certainly doesn't help his cause. Shot in a dirty, dingy, film-noir style, it begins with Justin meeting a shady guy in front of a sleazy hotel and handing him a thick stack of cash. "Promise me one thing," Justin says, "Make sure the girl doesn't get hurt."
What plays out next is one of the most terrifyingly dangerous pranks ever conceived. Because after turning over that money, Justin heads inside to rendezvous with his girlfriend (played by former Victoria's Secret model Xenia Deli), stripping off most of their clothes as they entwine and caress on the bed. Then it happens: Masked men break in and kidnap them both, later tying them up together in an abandoned warehouse.
It's all orchestrated so that Justin can save the day in a big way, rescuing his lady and winning her still-racing heart.
Think of it as the old movie-date cliché of a guy taking his girl to a scary show in the hopes that she'll cling to him for comfort … taken to a disturbing new level. This young woman thinks she's going to be raped or tortured or killed, after all.
And what happens when in real life some "creative" cad decides he wants to imitate the romantic drama (which in this case is another way of saying felony assault) Justin's concocted here, with much less happily ever after results?